Greens MP and Local Government Spokesperson David Shoebridge has called for the Baird govenrment to immediately release the key KPMG report that is being relied upon to force council amalgamations.
It is a farce that the Baird government is pushing for public submissions on merger proposals without giving the councils and communities access to the KPMG reports on each and every council.
Our office has lodged a freedom of information (GIPA) request for full copies of every report to be released, with a determination due 2 February 2016.
Pressure is mounting on the state government to release a consultants’ report that found its policy on amalgamations is going to bring NSW $2 billion in economic benefits. In the past week, protesters, the opposition and academics have called for the release of the modelling by KPMG.
But it can be revealed that they’re likely not the only ones complaining about being left in the dark. The Office of Local Government (OLG), a freedom-of-information request shows, doesn’t have a copy of the modelling either.
“The OLG does not hold the information sought,” a representative from the department told Greens MLC and local government spokesman David Shoebridge in response to a freedom-of-information request.
The OLG, based on the NSW south coast, is the bureaucratic body responsible for legalisation enabling the council amalgamation policy and performance management of council governments generally. But it appears to have been sidelined from the analysis, which was commissioned by the Premier’s department.
“This makes it clear that [Mike] Baird’s forced amalgamations process is a political fix being run out of the Premier’s department with the Office of Local Government being kept completely in the dark,” Mr Shoebridge said. “Any government that was interested in a balanced and considered assessment of local council finances would have ensured they obtained the OLG’s advice on the KPMG modelling.”
A spokesman for the Office of Local Government said this reflected their “independence and integrity” in the process of reviewing amalgamations.
“KPMG was commissioned by the NSW Government to provide a rigorous and entirely independent analysis,” a spokesman said.
The revelations come as the modelling has been exposed to a barrage of criticism for alleged inaccuracy, after small selections of its assumptions were released publicly.
Labor said the report had a black hole potentially running to tens of millions of dollars after the consultants presumed any redundancy payouts would be based on national awards, not the more generous provisions that apply to local government.
Academic Brian Dollery, the head of the University of New England’s centre for local government, accused KPMG of running different numbers last year when councils opposed to amalgamations commissioned their modelling.
KPMG’s $2 billion figure is composed of about $1.3 billion in cost savings and $700 million in broader “benefits” including grant funding. The report used a mix of publicly-available information and assumptions to reach its conclusions.
“The industry-accepted models […. used by KPMG] were based on conservative estimates,” a spokesman for Local Government Minister Paul Toole said.
A spokesman for KPMG said a report by its competitor, EY, commissioned by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal had arrived at a similar conclusion of about $1.3 billion in savings from amalgamations.
Mr Shoebridge has also requested the study from the Department of Premier and Cabinet.